THE VINLAND VOYAGES 

 INTRODUCTION

Attribute text to: Voyage of Wave Cleaver, Inc.  Frederick N. Brown

The following documentary is a free translation of the sagas of the north. These stories are not chronicled completely in any one place but are broadcast throughout several "Boks". Of these, there are numerous variations resulting from awkwardness of translation through the various languages or "Runic", to Latin and finally to English, mainly, and other languages only to a limited degree . There are two prime sources of the epics; several stem from a Greenland base which survived in the Icelandic dynamics themselves, and were further complicated by incursions by persons of Danish residence during the sovereignty of Iceland by that nation. Many of the documents themselves have been removed to Copenhagen where, for reasons best known to the Danes, they were kept in confidence. All surviving have been returned to Iceland where they are preserved in a museum. Some may have been lost during World War II; one, unrelated and in olden times wrought on sheepskin, was actually cut up and made into a vest for someone who wore it thus, complete with sagas all over - one is forced to read past the buttonholes.

The narrations that follow result from a three year reading program commencing in 1976 and which has been in ongoing review ever since. Those wishing further insights are directed to: "The Sagas of the Icelanders, A Collection", edited by Örnólfur Thorsson, pub. Leifur Eiricksson Press, Ltd.1997 and Viking Penguin Group, 2000: isbn 0-670-89040-5. This excellent work demonstrates literary superiority and persistence of Icelandic folklore in a number of selected Sagas. Several deal with the Vinland Sagas and a short section makes verbatim comparisons between Flateybok and Houksbok, two major sources of Vinland material. I was pleased to find that these translations from Old Norse by a linguist familiar with that language compares closely with my own reading derivations.


However, the stories have been long transmitted and are well known in Iceland: enumerated, catalogued, and cross-referenced. The major documents are called "Flateyarbok" and "Hauksbok" but there is much more than in these sources; some references are extant in sagas of Norway and Denmark. Though little known, there is even a remarkable quantity of literature in medieval writings and maps, in Bremen, Germany and in archives of the Roman Catholic Church. The author makes no pretense to being an expert on the detail and accuracy of the "Runes". Read specifically, their meanings are difficult to extract. Indeed, it took me a year and a half of reading before I was able to 'connect' to the real message, and even at that some one before me had done the major work. Eventually I simply read with the object of extracting whatever truth might be found therein; tried as best I could to 'comprehend' them - to 'milk' them as dry of information as possible.

They are much more voluminous than might be expected.  The late Frederick J. Pohl, an outstanding Vinland Scholar, in correspondence to me said that he had identified some 83 or more statements of course changes by the varied ships that had occurred between Greenland and Vinland.  I have been unable to penetrate the sagas to that degree but I believe it  One which interested me is that Leif's approach to the island I refer to as "Island of Sweet Tasting Water" was from the NE.  Pohl's analysis was from an objective observation - in some way either by direct statement or implication he discovered that information.  My analysis of it is subjective - I arrived at the same conclusion for this course from analysis of plausible courses to and from the site proposed.  The sagas statement of what the course was from that Island to the Leifsbudir is clearly stated and is one of the more critical issues of understanding Vnland.

In most cases, the sagas are summarized much too briefly - often to a few paragraphs. They are actually much longer, possibly book length in total and if footnoted and indexed, they might take up several thick volumes. If this is done the matter becomes so complicated that the story line itself is lost. Hence, what follows is a rather straightforward narrative of the Vinland sagas made as readable as possible, and to the length necessary to the problem at hand; namely, discussion of a specific site as probably being Leifsbudir.

Some of the factors addressed in footnotes are direct extractions from the sagas, others from prior students' deductions, some from alternative sources, and one, my own humble contribution. For instance, the presence of maple trees in Vinland is not described directly in the sagas but is from a later tale of Thorfinn Karlseffni while he is in Europe and mentions "mossur"  (ON Maple) in a business deal there. What you will read here is controversial. No two readers seem to arrive with the same understanding but by and large ihist is the more commonly accepted version of several possible with one exception: a matter debated in several forms, of which this narrative selects a neglected, often over-looked, but acceptable version. Of the alternative versions at that point this one has the virtue of ultimately bringing the ship of our explorations into a harbor that now seems known to us - Leifsbudir.

THE SAGA OF BJARNE HERJOLFSON

The first tale can be touched on lightly. It is one of a ship captain named Barn Herjolfson and both Bjarnni and his father Herjolf figure in it - indeed Herjolf is with us to this day, for the southernmost cape of Greenland is now named "Cape Herjolfness". There is said to be much detail in this saga because the ad-venture is frequently cited as almost "log-like", with courses and sail changes documented. In brief, however, the matter begins with the thought in Bjarni's mind that he wishes to spend the Yule with his father who has moved to Iceland some time previously. Where Bjarne was when this filial thought struck him I do not know, but presume it was in Norway. It was 986 AD and we can guess to have been rather late in the year, if Christmas was in the offing. He sets out and makes Iceland with no particular difficulty, but there he finds that Herjolf has moved on to the new, outlying colony of Greenland, founded by Erick the Red some six years previously. Evidently eager to join his father, he polls his crew remarking on the dangers of sailing unknown seas without a pilot and the unified band sets out for the distant land. In some days they come within sight of it - or a land they mistake for it - when they are struck by a severe storm and driven before it for many days. They are storm and fog bound for "a long time" - some say for fifteen days - before the weather clears and they again establish their bearings.

When they do, they discover that they have been driven very far south and so set course due north - apparently by the reasoning of ancient navigators to "run the latitudes", not having any accurate means of determining longitude. In one day's sail they make a landfall and they describe it as low and wooded with many dunes. The crew asks Bjarni for permission to go ashore but this is refused.15

They make off again and in two days' time make another land which is also described, this time as beached, hilly and forested. Again the crew entreats to go ashore and again they are refused.

Sailing northward yet, in three days' time they come to a third land and this is said to be bleak and barren with a wide plain and mountains with seeming glaciers off in the distance. The suffering crew again asks to go ashore, perhaps with some insistence, because Bjarni replies to them with some asperity that it is refused and even adds to the refusal the astonishing remark that they "- still have sufficient in supplies."(good indicator of Norse seafaring and endurance.)

-----Attribute to: Voyage of Wave Cleaver, Inc. Frederick N. Brown -----


Sailing again they are away from land four days and this time make a landfall that they identify as, and find to be, Greenland. They make into a fjord there and see a small boat pulled up on the shore with a man standing beside it. Closing the distance they find that the man is none other than Bjarni's father Herjolf; it was said that their Yule together was among the happiest ever among anyone.

This is an important saga for a number of reasons; first is that Bjarni's action in polling his crew before starting the voyage to Greenland is most significant in gaining insight to the times and the seamanship. His remark of refusal in saying there was still sufficient in supplies adds to the implied high level of discipline that must have been in operation on board.

But most important is the later information that this was the very ship that Leif Erickson bought, and from this very ship captain, fourteen years later for his own epic voyage. With the ship we can suppose he also obtained the crew, some of whom were the same as before. When Leif did set sail he did so with the stated purpose, several times reiterated, that he intended to reverse the courses of BJarni. So far as is known and demonstrated, he was successful in doing so. Hence, the description of the land Bjarni saw first is the same as the one Leif found last and which became the sub-coast of Vinland, "--low and wooded with many dunes." It entailed three sea passages, one of four days, one of three days and one of two days. Many later recordings of this say that "-it was not far from Markland to Vinland" (the two day passage).

Next;    Leif Eiricksson's Saga

Tracing Leif's courses at Vinland


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